Friday, 16 December 2016

Red Dawn (1984)


In Dirty Dancing, Patrick Swayze vows that 'nobody puts baby in the corner' before tripping the light fantastic with 'Baby' herself, Jennifer Grey.

Three years earlier, Swayze passes a fatally wounded Grey a grenade in Red Dawn, ensuring Baby is put in several corners all at once.

Thank you and goodnight!

Anyone who knows me or reads any of my ramblings will know that Red Dawn is not something that I, as a lefty, am politically attuned with. In fact I'd argue that Red Dawn plays solely to the Trump demographic were it not for the fact that Trump supporting neo-conservatives these days seem quite keen on Russia. But what I am quite keen on is some of the dafter elements of '80s Hollywood, and they don't get much dafter than Red Dawn.


John Milius' jingoisitic ode to the culture and values of traditional right wing America and the sabre-rattling Reaganite administration, Red Dawn immediately jumps the shark in asking us to consider America (Fuck yeah!) not as the aggressor, but as a peaceful, sedate country that was essentially minding its own business in the '80s and was not in fact parking Pershing's in West Germany or sending troops to fight in Grenada, Nicaragua and El Salvador to name but a few. Russia, joining forces with Castro's Cuba, are the aggressors here, putting boots on America soil because, it seems the USSR had a bad harvest that year. 


Milius wanted to pose a 'what if?' question, a warning for his country to take heed, drawing parallels he maintained with what was occurring at the time with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But it's such blatant anti-communist propaganda, perpetuating the myth that Russia was still a force to be reckoned with in the last few years of the Cold War, that it's a question/warning that is instantly null and void, and one that is tragically short sighted too when you consider all that has happened since then - both with 9/11 of course (from the Afghanistan Milius was drawing comparisons with, whilst Reagan bankrolled these future world terrorists) and with the sobering fact that if a gun massacre occurs in a US school (as it does in the film's opening invasion scenes) its perpetrator(s) have been one of the students rather than any foreign aggressor. 


It isn't just hindsight that damns Milius' xenophobic and overt patriotism, on its release the film received numerous bans in various parts of the world that were sympathetic to communism and was even picketed in many American states, with critics arguing that such a film shouldn't have been made in such politically tense times. Milius' response that these naysayers were 'un-American' only further served to widen the divide, though given its controversy and the arguments made at the time it surprises me that a 2012 remake would go on to feature North Korea as the invaders. 


Watching the film again, it's best to imagine it as a strange kind of alt-reality tale to get the most enjoyment from it, but even then the film is littered with some incredibly dumb, deeply unsubtle and downright odd flaws. Why, despite the numerous successes achieved by the 'Wolverines' (the teen rebellion of Swayze, Grey, Lea Thompson, C Thomas Howell et al) does their ranks not swell? In reality any guerrilla movement would be bolstered with each notable attack on the oppressive occupying forces. And the bit where the camera lingers on an NRA bumper sticker ('I'll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead fingers') before moving down to show a Russian paratrooper take a pistol from, yup you've guessed it, a dead man's hand is as laughably hamfisted as some of the atrociously clunky dialogue - not even the great Harry Dean Stanton can make something of the melodramatic line 'Avenge meeeee!'. Lastly, it's almost too hard to care about our band of heroes who are a mix of whingeing, virtually indistinguishable and interchangeable squirts or swaggering jocks as best exemplified by Swayze's sneering lead turn.


I hadn't seen Red Dawn since the 1980s but weirdly as I put it on a couple of weekends back the abiding memory I have of it was nothing to do with the film itself, but was in fact a memory of an argument I witnessed at school about twenty/twenty-one years ago. Some of the girls were claiming what a great film Red Dawn was, before going on to list the famouse and hunky actors who featured. When one girl claimed River Phoenix was in it, Dawn Prescott quickly pointed out that she was wrong. 'Perhaps there's a River Phoenix film you haven't seen?' the girl daringly suggested to this huge River fan. 'I've seen Red Dawn! And he ain't in it!' Dawn passionately retorted, so passionately that you could say she became Red (faced) Dawn. Is it weird that I remembered more about one moment in photography class in 1995 or '96 than I did about the whole of this movie?


Still, that memory answers the question as to just who Red Dawn is for - it's the perfect film for teenage girls and right wing, survivalist obsessive old folk.

3 comments:

  1. No, sorry. If you're not showing me Peter Griffin's Red Dawn, then I'm not playing. Roadhouse!

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  2. I saw Red Dawn in college in the summer of 84.I saw it more as an alt history fiction than anything else. I watch it again on DVD. Most of the locales were shot in New Mexico. Calument is actually Las Vegas New Mexico.
    I view the film as irony for 5 yrs later the Berlin wall falls and in the 90s Communism falls in Russia.

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